Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Angels Vs. Goodfellas Vs. Alias

I'm sitting here trying to monitor my maturity via the movies I turn to for solace, and now the DVD seasons. I've broken them down into several different categories --

The "Woman and a Gun" movies and TV shows
Giant monsters
Old black and white pre-code comedy
W.C. Fields & The Marx Brothers
Japanese Horror & Samurai Cinema
Hong Kong Cinema
Classic horror of the 1930s and 1940s
Classic Films - As in to savor with an artistic pallette -- Hithcock, Powell & Pressburger, Welles, well what Welles there is on DVD... and of course, Howard Hawks.
Psychedelic and/or spirituality
Avant Garde shit.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Joey, He's a Wild One.

Much has been written of our collective fascination with the gangster, especially as he appears in cinema. We forget, comfortably ensconced in our middle class malaise, that these scourges of humanity are the very leeches around our necks. In certain places and periods throughout history, the gangster has effectively taken over the city in which he lives--Prohibition-era Chicago, for example. In every case, his is a siphon on the productivity of the populace.

And yet, we love him because he represents the drive to live free of the constraints of the nine to five. He is a self-made man, usually rising up from immigrant poverty because he has the guts to risk jail and death. There's a little Stockholm syndrome in there was well, certainly.

Watching Goodfellas over the last few nights, for the zillionth time, is to admire again the way Scorcese overlays both these aspects. We are simultaneously horrified and amused by the homicidal antics of Joey (Joe Pesci), the pint-sized gangster with a psychopathic personality that makes the Napoleanic chip on his shoulder progressively more dangerous. The thing we understand in this film, as in many gangster epics, is that we are going to see nearly ALL the violence in the real life story of Henry Hill, the wiseguy played by Ray Liotta, who narrates. Scorcese does take time to wallow in the hideous decor and clothing choices of the gangsters and their wives... but it seems that if a few years in Hill's life are violence-free, we won't see them. The result is a portrayal of the addiction of killing, a subject which links the films with Shakesepearean works like Macbeth and Richard III, where once you "break the seal" and get away with it, murder becomes a habit.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thy Name is Charlie

I've been trying to take some comfort in the last ditch DVD womb I got, the original 1970s Charlies Angels seasons 1 and 2 on DVD.

I used to be in love with Kate Jackson. My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Zackon looked a bit like Kate but more brown hair-ish and her hair was longer and slightly wavy in that blow-dried but not Farrah-level 1970's working girl style. I loved Ms. Zackon too and she and Kate combined to form one perfect dream girl... older, cool, taking me to the hip spots, holding my hand as we meandered through the carnival, etc. I was obsessed with girls and MILFs, but in that pre-orgasmic, polymorphously perverse manner, where sitting on the teacher's lap was a deliriously perverse pleasure and there was no need to look beyond that for satisfaction. (I was approx 9-11 through the height of the show's popularity).

Part of the appeal of the show was that my dad refused to let me watch it as it started exactly at my bedtime. Only on the rarest of occasions would I get to see it... my imagination soared when hearing the other kids descriptions of what happened on that and then SWAT right after... I collected the cards and bought and stole teen magazines that had pictures of them, cutting them out and making a huge scrap book of their images.

Watching the show now I'm floored by how slow and meandering it is. It's fun when the angels are allowed to bond and play and joke amongst themselves, showing some 1970s spark and feminist oomf, but often the shows get hung up in the plot, with guest star bad guys getting in and out of cars and plain looking Los Angeles buildings and the angels going undercover in ridiculously elaborate sting operations. All the action seems to occur during the day: ice skating events, circuses, bar room brawls, all in the middle of the LA afternoon with no one around. All these events have approx. 10-20 people at them and they all occur in bland, featureless edifices, lots of empty space for these seasoned TV thespians to mug the hell out of whatever basic plot advancing dialogue they are given. If I'd have been allowed to watch the show on a regular basis, who knows if my obsession would have been as strong.

The structure of the show is brilliant in itself however...psychologically it's brilliant in a way that either today's industry HACKS have completely forgotten, or the else maybe times have changed. Nowadays all the Angels would have boyfriends, be obsessed with children, and getting married, cheating on each other, and on and on. Hunky guys would be dating the angels and we'd be supposed to identify with them and/or with the Angels.

In the TV show there is NO point of identification in the diegesis-- In the TV show no girl ever hooks up with a guy -- they're detectives and this is business. They are devoted to only one man, Charlie, whose face we never see, and so we never have to form an opinion on him, resent his success or envy him or aspire to be like him in the Hugh Hefner vein.

Also, there is rarely if any sexual harassment, or suggestions of rape. Even when the angels are jailed and sent to work in a whorehouse they manage to avoid having to actually sleep with anyone. Thus as a young male viewer there is no anxiety over our perceived inability to defend them against our own sex.

See, we don't IDENTIFY with guys on the screen, that's the mistake they make today, guys COMPETE with guys onscreen, unless they earn our trust in an alpha male sort of way (such as Russell Crowe) or are portrayed as below our stature (like WilL Ferrell) they are our competition, a threat to our enjoyment. Charlie takes us away from all that, that's why the one male who is allowed in the Angels lives is the symbolically neutered Bosley. A fun-loving endomorphic sort of a fellow, Bosley is competent and knows how to have a good time -- and is a bit of a slob. He's more likely to eat all of Kelly's popcorn at the ice show ("Angels on Ice") then he is to fall for her.

If we EVER would have seen Charlie's face in the show, it would instantly lose its mystique; it would be the equivalent of jumping the shark, of Willis and Shepherd hooking up in MOONLIGHTING or Sam and Diane, or the eventually incestuous FRIENDS, i.e. the disappointment is of finally getting the girl of your dreams in bed and STILL being unhappy, disappointed as we always are with the post-orgasmic reality at the end of the tunnel. To leave him to the imagination is to become him. But while Charlie remains unseen, the show stays in a perpetual pre-sexual twilight zone. The girls are all basically nuns in this regard, with Charlie as Christ. They are devoted to him--as an ideal of manhood in the abstract -- he is always kind, assured, generous, ontop of things, displaying wealth and a sense of cool, like James Bond wih a Blofeld style set-up. If the angels could only see his face, they'd be in heaven -- but then also they would be disillusioned, they'd become drug addicted prostitutes.

After decades of tiresome "will they or wont they?" TV shows such as Moonlighting, X-Files, Cheers, etc., it's great to rediscover a show where sex is completely subsumed within the narrative. The only sex is what YOU as the viewer bring, like a BYOB restaurant.

Angels... heaven.... death.... pre-oedipal viewing fantasy.... it's all connected, man. Spelling knows.
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